Fire

Fire score late to salvage home draw against Orlando

Fire score late to salvage home draw against Orlando

For once, the Chicago Fire were the team to score a late goal and change the result.

Unfortunately for the Fire, they scored that late goal after they were already trailing at home. Razvan Cocis’ 78th minute header gave the Fire a 2-2 draw with visiting Orlando on Sunday.

John Goossens gave the Fire an early spark, but Orlando’s big players came up with big plays in the first half. Goossens pinged a shot in off the post from outside the box for his second goal of the season.

However, for the third game in a row the Fire (4-11-7, 19 points) gave up a goal soon after scoring one. Three minutes later Cyle Larin held off Jonathan Campbell to get a touch on a bouncing ball in the box and tie the game for Orlando (5-6-12, 27 points).

"I think these are the things that we have to improve again," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We don’t have to be afraid when we have a good result in our hands. We have to manage better.

The Fire opened the match with a three-man backline consisting of Johan Kappelhof, Jonathan Campbell and Eric Gehrig. Orlando’s counter to that was to have Kaka play out wide left where he saw a lot of the ball and with time and space. The Fire adjusted, moving Kappelhof to right back and shifting Brandon Vincent to a more defensive position at left back in a flat back four.

However, that didn’t stop Orlando or Kaka. The Brazilian gave the Lions the lead in the 32nd minute on a rebound after a Larin header hit the post.

“Obviously we had a lot of issues on the right side with Kaka," Paunovic said. "Very good by (Orlando coach) Jason Kreis, very smart moving him on the sideline. I think also we struggled there. Once we did our adjustments, switching to 4-2-3-1 and putting Kappelhof, our maybe most experienced guy in our defense, against Kaka. We were able to stop him. When I say stop him, I know what I am saying because it’s very difficult to stop Kaka. We all know who is Kaka, but I think he did a great job."

Cocis saved the Fire from a defeat by heading in a Brandon Vincent cross following a short corner in what was a wide open game. The Fire held an 8-7 edge in shots on target.

"I think at least this time it was a good and better reaction in the second half," Cocis said. "We stepped up higher in the field, which was great, and it feels good when I see that we can be there. We can be higher up the field, dominate the opponent and stay there. As you saw even after we scored the second goal, we could have scored the third one.

The Fire extended their home unbeaten run to 10 matches.

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A win could have brought the Fire closer to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, which Orlando currently is tied for, but instead the Fire remain eight points back. Sunday’s match was an opportunity to gain three points on the team they were chasing. Instead, it’s another missed opportunity.

The Fire’s next game is at Montreal on Saturday.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.